EUSD reducing number of students in accelerated math


Michael Rodin’s daughter, a fifth-grader at Flora Vista Elementary, was in the accelerated math program last year, meaning she skipped ahead a grade level in the subject.

But he worries she won’t be able to continue on the accelerated path.

“These kids have put in a lot of work, and most can’t move up to the next grade level in math,” Rodin said at an Aug. 26 parent forum at Park Dale Lane that drew about 80 people.

Rodin and other parents in a similar position are upset the district has significantly raised the bar for math assessments that determine who’s accelerated. In effect, this has reduced grade skipping.

Last June, the Encinitas Union School District announced in a letter to parents, “Our former approach of acceleration by grade skipping will no longer be the best practice.”

It went on to state that the district wants more students to stay within their grade level for math class.

“We’re not going to accelerate as a general rule of thumb,” said Leighangela Brady, EUSD’s assistant superintendent of business services, during the forum.

The change was largely prompted by recommendations from a group of teachers representing EUSD and neighboring districts.

After several months of meetings last spring, the group found that over-accelerating has resulted in too many students with gaps in fundamental skills. Consequently, they struggle when they reach higher math levels, draining instructors’ time.

Brady cited another reason the district revisited math acceleration: the shift to Common Core standards.

Common Core emphasizes analysis and demonstrating understanding over rote memorization. For instance, Brady relayed a sixth-grade sample problem in which students are asked to come up with equations to maximize wind turbine production. They’re then told to write an article explaining how the technology works.

Rodin, the parent whose daughter attends Flora Vista Elementary, expressed worry over previously accelerated students having to rehash the same material this year.

Because previous years’ lessons weren’t as in-depth, accelerated students are likely to lack the deeper understanding that’s necessary to move forward, district officials stated.

Another parent said the new math standards are “bringing those top students down.”

In response, Brady said district teachers spent many hours this summer retooling the math curriculum so it’s more individualized. Hence, students can move ahead of the pack if they’re ready, she added.

Student iPad programs, which allow teachers to instantly track progress and tailor lessons, are a key component of personalization, Brady noted.

This year, every student now has an iPad, paid for by Proposition P, a $39 million bond passed in 2010.

“If a student is ready to keep going, why not let them go?” Brady said.

Although the district has discouraged acceleration, there is an “outlier clause” for students who can clearly demonstrate mastery on an assessment test.

Students who were previously accelerated or those hoping to skip ahead for the first time aimed to receive a score of 90 percent or greater on an assessment that teachers administered last week.

EUSD officials said the districtwide results have yet to be compiled. But according to preliminary reports, few students at each school have earned at least a 90.

District officials said past years’ acceleration assessments weren’t as comprehensive, explaining why more students were accelerated compared with this fall.

In prior years, as many as 30 percent to 40 percent of students in a given class were accelerated in math.

Brady said too often it became a “numbers game” in which students moved forward before they were ready.

Those currently on the cusp of acceleration can take a companion test. Also, math teachers could help determine where students should be placed.

“It’s looking at lots of different data points,” EUSD Superintendent Tim Baird said after the forum ended. “However, if the student is at 50 percent and someone wants them to be promoted to the next grade level, we’re not likely to do so, as they don’t have the requisite knowledge to be successful.”

Baird said other districts like the Del Mar Union High School District now have a similar approach to math acceleration.

EUSD has received $1.1 million from the state over two years to implement Common Core standards, most of which has gone to professional development and technology-centric instructional materials.

Jennifer Hamler, a candidate for the EUSD school board, said over the phone Aug. 25 that the district rushed into the new math acceleration standards without getting enough parent feedback.

“It feels like too much of a change all at once,” she said, adding that she has contacted parents regarding the issue over the summer.

Two parents at the meeting said they were relieved by the district’s answers during the forum. But they also stated that initial communications were confusing.

Others expressed frustration over the lack of notifications for the upcoming changes. The district, however, has said it tried to inform parents with a letter, an email blast, and notifications via its website and social media last June.

So far, the district has held three public forums on math acceleration and plans to continue outreach.

Carol Skiljan, an EUSD board member, said after the forum she was glad that quite a few parents came out to learn more about the topic.

She added high schools and colleges are eager to see districts like EUSD implement Common Core.

“Students are going to be better prepared for higher education,” Skiljan said.